A Life Changing Journey
Why, after retiring from teaching did I, David Smith, and wife, Dale, choose to leave the security of our home and friends in Downers Grove, IL and start all over again building a business and creating a new home in Geneseo, Illinois?
2005, while waiting around for our daughter to checked out a college my wife, Dale, asked me if I would like to retire and do something else . . . or continue teaching until some day I drop dead in the classroom? I had already taught art for over 32 years and I decided it was time I consider a “life changing” alternative. Together, Dale and I started planning a future, which included moving out of the Chicago Area, purchasing a commercial building in a small town that would house both our home and an art gallery with me as the gallery’s resident artist. As time went by this ideas morphed and changed. We realized it would be wise to pear-up the gallery with another income generating sideline . . . bed-and-breakfast . . . tearoom . . . or maybe even art classes.
Over the next few years we visited over 100 towns in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan and were unsuccessful in purchasing 3 different building in two other towns. Just when we were thinking of putting our idea on hold we drove through the small town of Geneseo, IL, population 6500, on Father’s Day 2007, while heading to an art fair in the Quad Cities. Father’s Day weekend is a “BIG“ event in Geneseo. It is a citywide party, which includes a “Music Fest”, “Craft Fair”, Ice cream Social and even a Parade! This beautiful Victorian town looked like the epitome of a small town as seen in a Hollywood film or Rockwell painting.
We found Geneseo charming, and it quickly moved to the top of our list of towns to consider. The residents of Geneseo took pride in maintaining their homes and community and supporting their schools and town events. We were impressed with the many progressive civic projects being developed, such as enlarging/updating the hospital, building a new library, and installing windmills and a solar panel field to make the town more energy independent. Also, the location was great; just a few miles east of were highway 80 and 88 come together and 20 miles from the Mississippi River and the Quad Cities. In 2007 the historic downtown business district was still a viable shopping area, however we did discover there were quite a few storefronts vacant and buildings for sale. As we got to know the people and met the mayor, members of the city counsel and chamber of commerce we were encourage that our plans to open an art gallery, offer art classes for all ages and live above are business were ideas the community would welcome.
January 2008 we purchased a 2 story commercial building at 124 South State Street, in the heart of Geneseo’s historic business district. The building was built in 1886 and had good bones, however it needed to be gutted and brought into the 21st century. A year was taken to develop building plans and to gut over 50% of the building. Working with local contractors we had a new roof put on, updated all the electrical and plumbing and refigured the building to include a efficient staircase to the second floor. For the next two years I continued teaching art in the west Chicago suburbs while spending all available weekends driving the 2½ hours to Geneseo to work on construction.
Spring 2011 I retired from teaching and Dale and I moved to Geneseo. We lived in the construction zone, sleeping on the floor, and worked on finishing the store and a small apartment. I milled all the trim and tried to bring the architectural standards of the building back to a more Victorian style. Because of a limited budget much of the building materials and furniture you see in our store came from Craig’s List, Habitat Stores and friends. Along with a large does of “Sweat Equity” and love we have slowly transformed this old building into a charming addition to Geneseo’s historical downtown retail and business district . . . and Our “Home”.
May 2013 the Smith Studio and Gallery opened their doors. My highly finished, whimsical paper mache sculptures looked remarkable in the newly renovated Gallery retail store space. Once opened, the Smith Studio and Gallery started to attract a wide array of Midwest artist, pastel artist, watercolorist, abstract painters, jewelers, woodcarvers and potters to name a few. We chose concentrated on representing Midwest artists who live outside a 35-mile radius of Geneseo, who otherwise would not normally have a presence in the Quad City Area. When you visit you will realize teaching art to others is still a very important part of my life. We have dedicated a large portion of our main floor gallery to setting up a classroom complete with large hard wood tables, good lighting, kid/adult height sinks, public restroom and even a drinking fountain. We believe the wide variety of professional artist’s work on our walls inspires children and adults to experiment with various art mediums when discovering their own creative path. I did not retire from teaching art . . . I moved it into the Smith Studio.
We hope we have become a positive influence in the ongoing rejuvenation of Geneseo’s historical business district. Committing our time, money and future into upgrading/restoring this beautiful 150-year-old historical building, and creating a long-lasting business dedicated to the belief that the arts can enrich everyone’s life. Most importantly, we believe the town’s-folk have started to notice our commitment to being part of Geneseo’s future. As newcomers to the community we continually try to live up to the community’s ideals of generosity, hospitality and innovation, while championing the importance of keeping the legacy of the town alive.
Welcome to the Smith Studio and Gallery and Our HOME.
David Smith, owner, resident artist and teacher
I may be retired, however now I am busier then every!
Stop in and meet David and Dale Smith, visionaries and owners of Smith Studio and Gallery. We live above the art studio and gallery located in a commercial retail building built in 1886. Situated in the heart of Geneseo’s historic business district, right off route 80, just east of the Quad Cities, and near enough to Chicago, Peoria and Iowa City to make it the perfect day/weekend trip.
David Smith is an award winning artist and Illinois licensed art educator. He has been recognized as the Illinois Art Educator of the Year, Illinois Elementary Art Educator of the Year and was honored with the National Illinois Art Education’s Life time achievement award in. This speaks to his dedication and professionalism in all that he does whether it is running an art gallery, teaching art, creating artwork or restoring a 130 year-old building.
Dale Smith, David’s better half, was a free-lance graphic artist in the Chicago area and an art director for a large international manufacturing company’s corporate mid-west marketing department. With her background in advertising she is the talent behind the Gallery’s printed literature, signage and website presence. You will usually find her in the upper gallery working on her computer.
Since opening in 2013 more art galleries have opened on State Street, along with boutiques, breweries, restaurants, florists, furniture store, antique shops, and a wide variety of specialty shops. Know there is not a vacant storefront in the downtown business district. Many of new and existing businesses have installed new sidewalk awnings, painted, restored and upgraded their buildings; with the help and support of City Hall. Both residents and visitors have taken notice of Geneseo’s historic business district rejuvenation, reminding everyone of the charm, history and business innovation that Geneseo continues to offer. In just a few short years “GENESEO IS THE PLACE TO VISIT AND EXPLORE”.